Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Remembering Ken Jones 1930 - 2015



Startling and pleasing to come across the blessed genre so unexpectedly in Planet! 

They were the first words Ken Jones said to me, by email in 2007, after he'd read two of my early haibun in Planet, the Welsh based journal of literature, history and contemporary journalism. I was writing haibun in a vacuum at that time, unaware of the network of other haibun writers in the UK in general, and in Wales in particular, but I'd already taken Ken's advice, from one of his articles published in CHO, about writing the haiku before writing the prose part of the haibun. This approach was working well for me so I was glad to have the opportunity to thank him personally.

Startling, pleasing, blessed. Those words conjure him for me now he's no longer at the other end of an email, or at a reading we've both been invited to or at a workshop we've been asked to lead. He was always, in different degrees, enthusiastic, confrontational, mischievous even. We didn't always agree about haiku writing but always found a middle ground of compromise born out of respect: a ground that enabled us to edit another country, haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer 2011) together.

I last spoke with him at a haibun evening at the Poetry Society Café, London in March this year. I really didn't expect him to be there: his health was frail and he'd moved, with his wife Noragh, from their mountain home in North West Wales to more suitable accommodation in nearby Aberystwyth. But there he was, thinner than I remembered, but still, and this was the only way I felt I could describe him, full of light. His voice trailed away when he stood to read his haibun about terminal cancer and his impending death but that really didn't matter. It was the closest I've ever come to witnessing, and feeling, what the Zen Buddhist idea of acceptance really means: he was a man living and enjoying the moment, acknowledging the reality of his life without fighting it or trying to change it. He was a receptacle of peace.

Because of our shared Welshness Ken used to close his emails with Pob hwyl or Hwyl fawr. Pob means 'every' in Welsh. Fawr means 'big'. Hwyl is trickier. It can mean 'the sail of a ship' and also 'fun'. But it also refers to how people are, their 'feeling' or 'mood'. You can sing with hwyl, with emotional fervour. And you can ask people how they're feeling: Sut hwyl sydd arnat ti? Literally, 'what feeling is on you?'

I like Hwyl fawr. Big feeling. What Ken sent to me. What he embodied in his life and his writing. What I will always remember about him. In the way he both lived and died.

This fine evening
stacking firewood
how simple death feels
logo
From The Parsley Bed: Haiku Stories, Ken Jones, Pilgrim Press 2006

First published in Contemporary Haibun Online, September 2015, vol 11 no 3